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OSHA website de-emphasizes workplace fatalities

OSHA website de-emphasizes workplace fatalities

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s homepage has been redesigned to replace a section that detailed workplace fatalities with a section about OSHA working with employers.

Until last week, OSHA’s website prominently featured a section that stated more than 4,500 workers lost their lives on the job every year and listing the names of those who died in recent months. But that section has been replaced with one that provides a few examples of the agency’s cooperative programs that work with and recognize employers who create safe workplaces. For example, the most recent entry outlines the renewal of an alliance to provide oil and gas industry workers in northern Colorado with information, guidance and training to enhance the industry’s safety culture.

Previous entries remain available in the original format on OSHA’s data and statistics page, according to an agency statement on Friday. The new fatality data listing is a more accurate reflection of work-related fatalities and is intended to provide useful information to help stakeholders better understand how workers are fatally injured on the job so they can prevent further tragedies, according to OSHA.

“The previous listings included fatal incidents that were outside federal OSHA jurisdiction, not work-related or the employer was not cited for a violation related to the incident,” the statement said. “We are continuing to review all of the data to ensure it is accurate and useful to our stakeholders. 

“We hope that a greater emphasis on the hazards will help employers and employees better understand how and why these incidents occurred, and take the necessary steps to prevent the loss of life at their own workplace,” the statement continued.

But the list on the data webpage only includes fatalities that have received citations and removed the names of the employees who died, Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on his Confined Space safety and health newsletter on Friday.

The agency, which still does not have an assistant secretary, did get new political leadership when Loren Sweatt was named deputy assistant secretary earlier in the month, which followed Alexander Acosta’s swearing in as Secretary of Labor in April.

“And now we’re seeing the first impact of the Trump-Acosta-Sweatt regime at OSHA: A brazen attempt to hide from the public the extent of workplace fatalities in this country,” Mr. Barab said. “What we now know is the Chamber of Commerce is fully in charge at OSHA."

The Trump administration did not ask the U.S. Chamber directly about revising the website, but the chamber has been criticizing the Obama administration’s approach for some time, so its position was well-known, said Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

“It wasn’t something we needed to go to them directly and say, ‘Take care of this’,” he said. “Everyone knew that we didn’t like what they had done before and I would say, broadly speaking, a lot of employer-side groups were saying the same thing.”

“We think that’s a perfectly appropriate move,” Mr. Freedman said of revising the fatality data section. He noted that listing these fatalities prominently on the home page was part of the agency’s public shaming efforts to scare employers into tackling workplace safety issues.

“The problem with that theory is that the way OSHA was posting this information, they didn’t distinguish between situations where the employer was at fault and situations where the employer was not at fault. You had a lot of cases out there where the employer was named, but they were never found to be at fault, and that’s unfair to those employers.”

The listing of names was added to the OSHA webpage in 2010 to ensure people knew of the extent of workplace fatalities in the United States, Mr. Barab said.

“Without information like this, fatality statistics are just raw, sterile numbers,” he said. “The purpose of adding names and circumstances was to impress people with the tragedy that workers and their families face every day.”




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